University of Nottingham

The Indian Ocean: narratives in literature and in law

Project outline

When this project was first conceived, it was described as 'following' the 'great will for interdisciplinary learning' prompted by the tsunami of December 2004. By 2010, the global public's idea of the Indian Ocean was captivated by narratives of pirates working off the coast of Somalia. But threats to the environment and threats to commerce have long dominated widely circulating stories about this Ocean. The work of this project engages, compares, and challenges historic and current stories about the region. It does so by delving into ideas about the geography within literary and legal narratives.

Allard, Carel (1648-c. 1709). Nova tabvla India Orientalis. Courtesy of National Library of Australia. Map of Indian Ocean by Carel Allard (1648-c.1709), courtesy of National Library of Australia.  


This project has generated more imaginatively, historically and ethically aware ideas of the Indian Ocean. It has formed ongoing and expanding networks of scholars, lawyers, poets, and novelists. And it has informed teaching and research practice: maritime literaturepiracy and literature and law are now established features of the University of Southampton's curriculum and postgraduate research culture. It promotes the study of the Indian Ocean within the Humanities and Asian and African Area studies across the UK: and in doing so, its outcomes are part of a wider and growing challenge to the dominance of Atlantic and Pacific studies in academia. The work and particularly the publications of this project have helped the inter-discipline of literature and law to achieve greater prominence and value in the UK academic environment.

Specific outcomes have included a multi-disciplinary seminar series (2007-09) on the Indian Ocean; public talks in London, Southampton, Sydney and Plymouth on topics ranging from historical narratives of pirate utopias to recent proposals to create Marine Protected Areas; consultations with Southampton City Council on plans for their Sea City Museum; and the creation of a piracy display for the Southampton Boat Show. In 2010, the project hosted a series of international workshops on 'Law and Lawlessness in the Indian Ocean', 'Abolitions in the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Worlds' and 'Piracy in the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Worlds'. Scholars and postgraduate students from across the world and from the disciplines of English, history, geography, law, and archaeology attended. Poetry readings, lecture recordings and further information about the workshops are available from the project's website.


Ongoing influence

The relationship between historical and current, literary and legal narratives of piracy in the Indian Ocean continues to be explored through research, publications, and academic and public-facing lectures and events. This work is key to the emergence of the University of Southampton as a significant forum for the interdisciplinary study of piracy, as recently explored through a unique international workshop on 'Piracy and Jurisprudence' supported by the project. The project also continues to update its research agenda in line with the politically sensitive legal issues surrounding the Chagos Islands, including the ongoing exile of the Chagossians, the declaration of the region as a Marine Protected Area, and the use of the archipelago for 'extraordinary rendition' by the US government. And the work of this project has brought the Indian Ocean into prominence within broader research initiatives, particularly through its key support of the 2011 British Association of South Asian Studies annual conference and the ongoing AHRC network 'Subjects of Law: Rightful Selves and the Legal Process in Imperial Britain and the British Empire'.

Award details

Duration: 2007-2010 (36 months)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Stephanie Jones

Higher Education Institution:
School of Humanities, University of Southampton

Project team:
  • Dr David Johnson, Open University (Co-I)
  • Dr Prem Poddar, University of Southampton (Research Fellow)

Selected publications

Publications include peer-review journal articles as well as a contribution to a Routledge edited collection on Law and Art.

Jones, S. (2011). Editorial. Wasafiri special issue on Indian Oceans. 66. (Routledge).

Jones, S. (2011). The poetic ocean in Mare Liberum. In: Ben-dor, O. (ed.) (2011). Law and Art: Aesthetics, Ethics, Justice. (Routledge).

Johnson, D. (2010). Representing Cape Slavery: Literature, Law, History. The Journal of Postcolonial Writing. 46(5):504-516. Available online.


Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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